Packing a bag for a journey abroad is an exciting way to anticipate a long-awaited trip—unless you’re taking a musical instrument. There’s nothing more anxiety-inducing for a musician than putting their instrument through the gauntlet of airport security, flight crew, strange climates, looming thieves, and more.
Some musicians won’t abandon their beloved instruments for any reason, leading to incidents like this one, when a violinist was kicked off his flight for refusing to part with his 18th-century fiddle. (To be fair, it has an estimated worth of $250,000, so can you blame him?)
Luckily, there are ways to travel abroad with your musical instrument without risking being tossed out of the emergency exit mid-flight by tone-deaf air marshals. Just follow these tips and your sweet music-maker will continue to make sweet music wherever you roam.
Check the Airline’s Musical Instrument Policy
Some airlines are more musician-friendly than others. For example, EasyJet and Air Canada allow musicians to bring instruments the size of a guitar or smaller onto flights without issue. Other airlines get snarky and won’t make room in overhead bins or let musicians keep instruments on their laps.
Always book a musician-friendly airline—this will reduce your stress level massively. You can use this tool to find airlines that have good instrument policies.
Pack Instruments in a Hard Case
This seems like a no-brainer but keep your instrument in a hard case. Packing your instrument in a soft case is a bad idea even if it’s a carry-on. Your instrument will still need to go through security, and it will still get packed with you sardine-style in the cabin. Not to mention, it’ll need protection during the adventures you’ll have together on your trip.
Don’t Put Anything Else in the Case
Only keep your instrument and its accessories in the case. Using your case as extra luggage for your odds and ends could be the end of your instrument. Jostling during travel may scratch or damage it. You’ll also be more likely to be searched by TSA. This means someone who has probably never handled an instrument before will be inspecting yours—inside and out. It’s especially important not to store any liquids in your case.
Consider Booking an Extra Seat
If you have an instrument bigger than a guitar, buy an extra seat to ensure that your instrument can fly with you in the cabin. You’ll need to check the airline’s policy about this. Even if you purchase an extra seat, some airlines won’t let you take an item on the plane that exceeds their cabin luggage dimensions.
Insure Your Instrument
You never know what can happen in the wide world we live in. But you can know that you’ll feel much more at peace while traveling if you insure your instrument. You can get insured for a couple of bucks per month, so it’s definitely worth the cost. To find the right insurance for you, search for insurance for your type of instrument, such as woodwind insurance or brass band insurance.
Take Photos Beforehand
If something happens to your instrument when it’s under the care of the airline, a venue, or a hotel, you’ll need to prove it. Take LOTS of pictures of your instrument and its accessories prior to traveling. If damage occurs, you’ll be able to show the state of your instrument before your trip. This is especially important if you have insurance, as it will make the claims process much easier.
Stock up on ‘FRAGILE’ Stickers
You want everyone to know that your music baby is FRAGILE, so plaster those big red stickers all over your case.
Pro Musician? Bring Proof
Did you know that pro musicians have rights when traveling? If you’re a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), you can request a letter stating that you work professionally as a musician and need to travel with your instrument for work. It also feels very cool to flash official documentation showing that you’re a VIP musician.
Travel in Tune
It’s not worth traveling with your instrument if you’re just going to worry about it constantly. Use the tips above to take the stress out of traveling abroad with your instrument, and get ready to show the world your chops!